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Sri Lanka cabinet delayed amid step down speculation

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena has delayed Tuesday’s weekly cabinet meeting amid speculation that Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake may step down.

A ministerial source said that the Tuesday meeting was initially put off for the evening saying President Sirisena was going to be in Kandy to attend celebrations relating to the annual pageant there.

Thereafter, ministers were told by the President’s office that the cabinet meeting was rescheduled for Wednesday morning.

"It looks like Minister Karunanayake might step down," the ministerial source said, adding that any resignation could mount pressure on the President to seek the same from several of his loyalists in the government.

A member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) faction loyal to Sirisena said at least six SLFP ministers in the current government had been indicted, unlike Karunanayake who has not been charged in any court.

"Ravi is guilty only in the court of public opinion, but there are at least six – if not more – SLFP ministers who face corruption charges," the source said. Ministers Anura Yapa, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premajayantha, A. H. M. Fowzie, Dilan Perera and Nimal Lansa face corruption charges.

With the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction of the SLFP initiating a no-trust vote against Karunanayake, the issue has been turned into a political prestige battle, with the Prime Minister obliged to defend his minister.

However, a resignation by Karunanayake would avoid the no-confidence vote, but it will weaken President Sirisena who will be obliged to ask his loyalists in the SLFP too to follow the foreign minister’s example.

A Sirisena loyalist, Priyankara Jayaratne resigned from his deputy minister portfolio after he failed to get a bribery case against him dropped.

Should Karunanayake step down, the government is likely to consider Tilak Marapana to be a stand-in foreign minister.

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Marapana himself is a highly controversial individual who was forced to resign as Minister of Law and Order in November 2015 when he tried to defend Avant Garde Maritime Services in parliament. Avant Garde was being accused of causing millions of dollars in losses to the state and running a virtual private army, but Marapana said there was no wrongdoing on the part of the company.

His remarks caused an outrage with UNP ranks, which wanted him sacked, but he resigned and was later re-inducted into the cabinet recently by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe  as minister of "development assignments." (COLOMBO, August 7, 2017)

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